Biscayne kayaking lesson: Be prepared

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — When a day of kayaking comes to mind, I think of adventure, wildlife and soaking up the sun’s rays.

Unfortunately, by being the often-unprepared person that I am, my kayaking experience at Biscayne National Park was not quite what it could have been.

My friend Andrea Shank and I arrived at the park on a gorgeous Easter Sunday afternoon. The sun warmed my skin, while the cool ocean breeze soothed me to neutrality.

Two well-equipped men get a workout by kayaking at Biscayne National Park (Photo by Gary Bremen, courtesy of Biscayne National Park).

“Wow, I forgot it was Easter Sunday. Look at all the people,” said Andrea, feeling overwhelmed by the unexpected crowd.

The delicious scent of mesquite fluttered the air at Convoy Point with a swarm of families barbequing and children running wild. People scattered the shoreline, but, surprisingly, not one kayak, canoe or paddleboat was in the water. The bay was empty with the exception of a white motorboat, docked at the island across the way, and two windsurfers gliding their way back and forth from the outer island to the park site.

An alligator rests on logs in the mangroves at Biscayne National Park (Photo by Thomas M. Strom, courtesy of Biscayne National Park).

“You would think that with all these people we wouldn’t be the only ones trying to rent out a kayak,” said Andrea.

Evidentially, arriving on a crowded Easter Sunday was the least of our worries. The real setback was getting there at 3:30 p.m. assuming we had hours of daylight. The sun doesn’t set until seven this time of year, but little did we know the park closes all water activities at 5 p.m.

“Because you guys came late, you only get an hour and half on the water,” announced park concessioner Nick Sylver.

Multiple wetland species reside in these mangroves, making Biscayne National Park their home (Photo by Gary Bremen, courtesy of Biscayne National Park).

We ended up paying the set price of $17 per person, where, if we arrived at 8 a.m., when the park first opens, we could have had the whole day of kayaking for the same price.

At least we had our identification cards, because the park does not permit rentals without a proper ID and signing a release form.

To get situated, I picked out a fitting oar and a life jacket (that I decided to not use). We put our kayaks on a launching ramp to ease our way in the water. Andrea launched-off backwards with success. I, on the other hand, dived-down nose forward and accumulated a pool of water that I had to sit in for the remainder of the trip.

We paddled out towards the islands across the bay in hope to catch a glimpse of wild life. I was in the zone, feeling a burning sensation with each stride. What felt like five minutes really took 20 until we reached the first island. As we neared the second island, we wondered if the white motorboat had been abandoned or if there were people aboard. Sure enough, as we got closer there were people waving and yelling at us.

“We’re stuck!” the people on the boat cried. “Can you go back to the park and ask for a tow boat?”

There was only an hour left of kayaking time and I had yet to spot anything interesting, but before I could ask if they felt like waiting a little bit longer, Andrea was already on her way back to shore. Although I knew she was doing the right thing, I was frustrated, knowing that by the time we hit shore there would only be 30 minutes left and we were getting nowhere, but I still followed her lead.

Andrea Shank launches off Biscayne National Park’s coastline. “I am ready for adventure,” she said (Photo by Carly Ehrlich).


Paddling against the current made me work harder and it took even longer to reach the shoreline. I was happy to see that we were not the only people who decided to rent out a boat at the last second, as a family-filled paddleboat headed towards me.

“Which way is home?” a little boy on the boat asked.

I didn’t know how to respond, so I just smiled and shrugged my shoulders. The little boy’s parents laughed.

By the time I caught up with Andrea, she was fuming with dissatisfaction. A couple on shore had told her to paddle around and get a ranger, showing complete lack of compassion for the people on the boat and ignoring the fact that she was still on the water. We both asked a man who said he would report the boat to a worker, so we continued on with our journey.

We figured that staying near shore and following the mangroves was a clever option since we were running out of time. Falcons circled over head, possibly in search for a meal. Andrea and I scanned the water in speculation, but only made eye contact with a jellyfish that we poked for a moment and then carried on our way.

A kayak points away from Convoy Point at Biscayne National Park (Photo by Carly Ehrlich).

We nestled our way through an open, narrow path of mangroves searching for excitement, praying to turn our misfortunes around. After all, Sylver said that we should be expecting “a day of relaxation and wildlife” and, since I wasn’t feeling relaxed, wildlife was my best bet.

As we paddled down the mangrove trail, the water was getting shallower. Schools of fish passed us in single file lines. I’m not sure of the exact species, but they were long, shimmering silver fish that swam in sync.

I paddled slowly, scoping out the scenery in hope to catch sight of an alligator or something spectacular. I heard a rustle in the trees. I thought that if I encountered an alligator on this trip, then all the havoc beforehand would have been worth it. Even a puny water snake would have set me in the right mood. Sadly, my kayak reached a dead end and I had to turn around and head back towards the open water with nothing to be seen.

The raccoon scatters around the mangroves at Biscayne National Park searching for nuts and berries to feast on (Photo by Thomas M. Strom, courtesy of Biscayne National Park).

Back on shore, we were now sopping wet, along with most of our belongings. We did learn another lesson: bring plastic bags for all necessities, especially electronics, if you take them out on the water.

The motorboat was still trapped. When we went to return the equipment and get our IDs we told the concessioner about the stranded boat and headed home.

I’m sure with a little more preparation, my kayaking experience could have been a lovely experience and, although I always say that spontaneity is the key to adventure, planning beforehand in this case would have guaranteed a more relaxing and fun day.


If You Go:

  • What: Kayaking in Biscayne Bay.
  • Where: Biscayne National Park at Convoy Point.
  • Directions: From Miami, take Florida’s Turnpike south to Speedway Boulevard, and turn left (south). Continue four miles on Speedway Boulevard to North Canal Drive and turn left (east). Follow Canal Drive another four miles to the park entrance. From Homestead (about nine miles), take SW 328th Street (North Canal Drive) to the park entrance at Convoy Point.
  • When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
  • Price: $17 per person.

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